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The unwritten law: traditional ways of conserving environment

By Vision Reporter

Added 8th December 2014 02:11 PM

Our post-industrial culture and skill have enhanced the stride of our lives and man’s desire to exploit mother earth has multiplied tenfold that it cannot be quenched by world water bodies.


trueBy Shallon Asiimire

Our post-industrial culture and skill have enhanced the stride of our lives and man’s desire to exploit mother earth has multiplied tenfold that it cannot be quenched by world water bodies.

Consequently, the atmosphere is fast wasting away; hurricanes, hailstorms, a burning forest, degraded wetlands and general ecological obliteration are the order of the day. We are reaching the tipping point of climate change, running low on natural resources and facing ecosystem collapse.

Preferably laws are expected to aid the protection of the environment, but all hope has been lost,. The protection of the environment thus shall require other innate approaches to complement the toothless juridical law. And to do this it is we that we go back to where we originated from.

Before the advent of colonization and of Christianity and Islam, the African lived in harmony with nature. With the arrival of the white man, land that was collectively owned and managed by Africans was Balkanized for individual ownership, with new and exotic crops introduced to feed the colonialist. Chemicals were poured into soils and rivers, virgin forests that had been preserved for their sacredness were raped by the colonial masters and the trees that were felled exported abroad.

Environmental conservation is not a recent phenomenon in native African communities. Past generations knew about environmental degradation and the need for preservation. This found expression in traditional religious practices simply because the African believes that everything that belongs to the ecosystem and the environment has a strong spiritual meaning for humans. Indeed the African's attitude to nature is deeply rooted in the belief that all things were created by the Supreme Being for a harmonious continuity, and as such there must be a relationship of mutual obligations between all created things.

For instance, natural phenomena were seen as possessing spiritual power and the natural force that supplies food seen as superior and accorded respect and veneration. Certain trees, for instance, could not be felled because they were considered as (God's trees) and are therefore sacred and endowed with healing powers. Indiscriminate tree felling experienced today was unheard of in the days when these traditional religious practices ensured the preservation of forests.

Land in African societies was also seen as a goddess, On Sunday or even when the community member has died, one could not farm the land; this regulated man's impact on the land and thus secured its fertility. Land in these traditional societies belongs to clans and not to the individuals, and because the clan consisted of the living, the dead and even the unborn, it enhanced the idea of sharing and caring for nature.

Generally, rivers and seas were also seen as abodes of the gods. As divinities, certain human activities that marred their beauty were considered taboo; therefore, pollution, industrial and human waste could not be discharged into these water bodies lest the culprits were punished by gods.

Sadly, much as the awareness of the indispensable role of tradition in conservation and environmental protection has dawned lately, the good intentions of some NGOs and researchers to help revive these traditional practices and conserve the existing groves and other sacred practices have been viewed with suspicion by certain indigenous communities, who may see them as attempts to deprive them of their age-old traditional practices and replace them with Western concepts.

Environmental education to be meaningful, it should enable people to gain an understanding of how individual actions on values and participation affect the environment and parents should be encouraged to learn traditional practices that show positive human qualities of environmental conservation and thereafter pass them onto children and must strive to consolidate what was good in the past to mutually interact with present ideals, if the future is to remain meaningful

Clearly, traditional practices reveal that African societies were aware in the past of the need to protect their environment. This is covered in religious beliefs, partly because religion permeates virtually all aspects of African life. This awareness led to an environmental ethic, which implied using the spiritual world to protect the environment.

The writer works with Advocates for Natural Resources Governance and Development

 

The unwritten law: traditional ways of conserving the environment

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